Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Assumption School is evidence of Walla Walla’s ‘very strong commitment’ to Catholic education
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Nov. 10, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
The first grade class at Assumption School, Walla Walla, is taught by Mary Smith (standing, right). With Clancy is Michele Acock, Assumption’s principal. (IR photo)
When it comes to the Catholic elementary school she heads up in Walla Walla, principal Michele Acock is about to jump out of her skin with enthusiasm. Not only is she Assumption School’s principal, but, like most Catholic school principals, she is also its unofficial head cheerleader.
She gets anyone and everyone involved that she can. This includes, on a regular basis, her father, Jerry Anhorn, who graduated from the old St. Patrick High School in 1955 and went on to become a teacher and coach at Walla Walla’s Catholic high school, DeSales. “He helps out with all kinds of construction, maintenance, and other projects around the school,” Acock says.
Giving a visitor a tour of the Assumption School buildings, Acock seems hardly able to contain her joy at everything that is going on. She affirms everyone she meets, whether teachers, students, or a parent-volunteer. She’s obviously proud of Assumption School, and at the drop of a ruler she’ll tell, beaming, of the illustrious history of Catholic schools in Walla Walla.
She says, “These schools actually were started in 1864, by the Sisters of Providence,” then called the Sisters of Charity of Providence. “Mother Joseph had sent them to start the hospital,” now St. Mary Medical Center, “and shortly after that she sent two more Sisters to start St. Vincent Academy for girls. Just to give a better understanding of how long Catholic schools have been here, I remind parents that Abraham Lincoln was still president in 1864.”
Walla Walla’s Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish was established by Bishop Charles White in 1953, and two years later, the school opened with Dominican Sisters from Tacoma, Wash. at the helm and in the classrooms. When the Sisters found it necessary to withdraw their services from Assumption School in 1970, it was closed at the end of that school year.
After a restructuring process to serve all three of Walla Walla’s parishes, Assumption School was reopened in the fall of 1971 for grades 1 through 6. The first kindergarten class began in 1978.
During the 1980s, the School Sisters of Notre Dame served in both administration and instruction in the school. In 1987, Assumption School’s educare program began, including a preschool, extended care program, and a daycare. In 1991, in order to mirror the local public school system, Assumption’s grade 6 moved to DeSales (where the 7th and 8th grades had been since 1971), thus establishing a middle school program at DeSales.
In the fall of 2005, however, the Walla Walla Catholic schools restructured again, returning grades 6, 7, and 8 to Assumption and reestablishing DeSales as a traditional four-year high school.
Acock’s history at Assumption School goes back to the fall of 1982, when, with the ink barely dry on her diploma from Eastern Washington University, she became Assumption’s new sixth grade teacher. Over the years she also taught second and third grades, and kindergarten. One year, she taught kindergarten in the mornings and in the afternoons served as Building Administrator – the office of the principal for both Assumption and DeSales being located at DeSales. “At the end of that school year,” Acock recalls, “in the spring of 1992, I told the school advisory council that they needed to make a decision, either to have a fulltime principal here at Assumption or let me teach kindergarten fulltime. I couldn’t do both.”
Acock has been principal of Assumption School since 1992. She’s an example of a not uncommon phenomenon among teachers and administrators in Walla Walla’s Catholic schools. She completed her elementary education at Assumption, with the exception of the year when the school was closed, then went on to graduate from DeSales High School in 1978.
“The number of alumni of Walla Walla’s Catholic schools who have come back to the Walla Walla valley, who are actually teaching here and making it a career, is amazing,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘I believe in Catholic education, I’m a product of Catholic education, and it would be nice to be making more money, but I choose to be here because of the experience I had.’”
At the two schools, Assumption and DeSales, both principals are products of Walla Walla’s Catholic schools, as are more than half of the two schools’ teachers.
Another unique feature of Assumption School, Michele Acock says, is that there is “a very strong commitment to Catholic education in this little community, including great support from the parishes, from alumni, from the families.” The support is not merely monetary. Acock cited a “very high percentages” of alumni who in turn send their own children to Assumption and DeSales.
Assumption School has 279 students enrolled in grades K-8, with another 43 children, age 3-5, in the educare program. There are 12 full-time teachers and three teachers that split their time between Assumption School and DeSales High School, plus three part-time teachers and a part-time librarian. The school includes two first grade classes and two third grade classes, with no grades combined.
“When (Bishop William Skylstad) came down for the groundbreaking for our new preschool/primary building, in 1998, he was shaking his head, and he said, ‘I just don’t get it. In Walla Walla you’re constantly adding on in some way, shape or form. When there are Catholic schools across the nation that are closing, you continue to build bigger.’ That’s kind of a neat statement,” said Acock. “It comes back again to the commitment and the dedication that we have from the people within our community.”
As with any good principal, of course, Michele Acock has another dream up her sleeve for Assumption School. “My dream goal,” she says, “and I haven’t even really talked to the school advisory council about any of this! – is to build again, this time a middle school facility, and in that building we’ll have up-to-date technology and an up-to-date library – though our present library is very up-to-date – but with all the technology built right into it, an up-to-date facility in all respects.”
With its track record, this is a dream that Assumption School can expect to come true.